Photo from Pixabay.
Photo from Pixabay.

Countering contentions by some that COVID-19 is less deadly than other conditions, Los Angeles County’s public health director said Thursday the virus was the leading cause of the death locally from the start of the pandemic through December.

Basing her figures on death certificate data, Barbara Ferrer said during an online briefing that 24,947 COVID-related deaths were reported in the county between March 2020 and Dec. 31, 2021. That surpassed the county’s previous leading cause of death, coronary heart disease, which was responsible for 21,513 fatalities over the same period.

For people who have compared COVID to the flu, the number of people who died from pneumonia or influenza over that time frame was 3,422, she said.

“Clearly, despite the availability of vaccines and the dominance of Omicron, which generally causes less severe disease than prior variants (of the virus), COVID-19 deaths continue to far outstrip deaths due to other respiratory illnesses,” Ferrer said.

She pointed to a recent New York Times analysis that found Americans are dying at a rate double that of Great Britain and four times the rate of Germany, with low vaccination rates cited as the most likely reason.

“These local and national findings are important reminders that COVID has led to inconceivable illness and death, and increasing vaccination and booster rates offers the best hope for reducing the most tragic outcome from COVID infection,” Ferrer said.

As of Thursday, Ferrer said 82% of eligible county residents aged 5 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 73% are fully vaccinated and 34% are vaccinated and boosted. Among all 10.3 million residents, 77% have at least one dose, 69% are fully vaccinated and 32% are vaccinated with a booster shot.

Figures showed that children between 5-11 still have the lowest vaccine rates, with just 32% having received one dose and 23% fully vaccinated.

Ferrer noted that during the month of January, children aged 5-11 represented 15% of all COVID cases in the county, despite making up just 9% of the population. Teens aged 12-17 accounted for 13% of all cases, while representing just 7% of the population.

“Children do get infected with COVID-19,” she said.

Ferrer again noted steady declines in key pandemic metrics, including case rates, hospitalization numbers and the rate of people testing positive for the virus.

“And this is encouraging news, but sadly we’re not seeing a corresponding decline in reported deaths, and each day we’re still losing dozens of people across the county to COVID-19,” she said. “Over the past week there was an average of about 70 deaths reported each day.”

The county reporting another 96 fatalities on Thursday, as well as 11,548 new infections, which Ferrer noted is about one-fourth of the number of nearly 46,000 reported a few weeks ago at the height of the winter infection surge.

The rate of people testing positive for the virus was 7.9% on Thursday, down from 8.8% on Wednesday and well below the 20% rate of a month ago.

According to state figures, there were 3,398 COVID-positive patients in Los Angeles County hospitals as of Thursday, down from 3,515 on Wednesday. The number of patients in intensive care fell to 670, down from 699 a day earlier.

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